Jeremy Hellickson doesn’t believe in BABIP. Which is fine, because he doesn’t have to.

28 Comments

Interesting article in the Tampa Bay Times. Marc Topkin spoke to Rays starter Jeremy Hellickson about BABIP — batting average on balls in play.

The idea of BABIP, in case you’re unfamiliar, is that a pitcher can control walks, strikeouts and homers, but once the ball is in play, the fates and team defense have a bigger bearing on whether it’s a hit or not. This has been shown to be out of control of the pitcher by virtue of it not being a predictable stat. Meaning that the batting average on balls in play allowed by any one pitcher varies wildly from year-to-year.

That part of it is often referred to as a pitcher having “good luck.” I kind of don’t like that because most folks in our society — especially athletes — don’t like thinking that the things they do are the result of luck. At least the positive things. They like to believe it’s all innate skill and moxie, so when you refer to things as being a function of luck, they bristle. That’s what Hellickson did too:

“Yea, I just got lucky on the mound,” Jeremy Hellickson says dryly. “A lot of lucky outs … I hear it; it’s funny,” Hellickson said, not quite sure of the acronym. “I thought that’s what we’re supposed to do, let them put it in play and get outs. So I don’t really understand that. When you have a great defense, why not let them do their job? I’m not really a strikeout pitcher; I just get weak contact and let our defense play … I can either handle my business or I don’t …”

Some of my statistically-oriented friends may make light of Hellickson’s comments here. And will definitely make fun of another one he makes at the end of the article — “Wins are by far the most important stat” — but I don’t think that’s warranted. It would be if the words came from an analyst or anyone else trying to objectively assess Hellickson’s performance for, say, awards purposes, Hall of Fame purposes or the like.  But when the athlete himself says it, who cares?

While collecting wins does not make Hellickson a better pitcher objectively speaking, Hellickson’s job is to get outs and, ultimately, help the team win games. It matters no more that he fully understands and appreciates BABIP theory than it matters that an eagle understands aerodynamics.  They do what they do and they try to do it the best they can. Leave it to the analysts — both on the outside and those inside the Rays organization — to figure out why it happened and predict whether it can happen again.

But I would ask Mr. Hellickson one small favor:  if you’re not going to credit the happenstance of a good batting average on balls in play for your success in 2011, please don’t let us find you being quoted someplace about all the bad luck you had,  if your BABIP goes haywire in 2012, OK?

The Giants might be ready to part ways with Hunter Pence

Getty Images
3 Comments

Alex Pavlovic of NBC Sports Bay Area hints that the Giants may be done with outfielder Hunter Pence. It’s not clear just how seriously the club is contemplating such a decision, but there are six days remaining on Pence’s rehab assignment, at which point they’ll be able to recall him, reassign him to the minors or release him.

The 35-year-old outfielder has struggled to make a full recovery after spraining his right thumb during the first week of the season. Pence bounced back for a 17-game run with the Giants in April, during which he slashed a meager .172/.197/.190 with one double and one stolen base in 61 plate appearances, but was eventually placed on the disabled list with recurring soreness in his finger. He currently sports a promising .318/.359/.388 batting line with four extra-base hits (including a grand slam) over 92 PA in Triple-A Sacramento.

Despite his recent resurgence in Triple-A, the Giants may not need the additional outfield depth just yet. Mac Williamson, who was recalled in the wake of Pence’s DL assignment, has already cemented the starting role in left field and is off to a strong start at the plate as well. Of course, if the Giants decide to say a premature goodbye to their veteran outfielder (who, it should be said, helped them to two World Series championships over the last seven seasons), it’ll cost them the remaining balance on his $18.5 million salary for 2018.